Recently I had the privilege of facilitating a presentation to a group of dedicated parents. The parents attended the Learning Through Play conference at the Cincinnati Museum Center and participated in a 4C sponsored session that focused on the benefits of play – specifically, imaginary play.
Throughout the session, I observed parents eagerly engaging their children in play. Strategies were provided to the parents regarding ways they could ensure their children benefitted from the play. I observed parents practicing these strategies as they interacted with their children. And I observed children gleefully “playing along.” At the close of the session, a mother stated, “I had no idea how important play is for my child… more parents need to be made aware of this.”
So, with the intent to build awareness, I’m here to tell you that children learn through play! Play for young children is the means by which they explore, create and develop skills that help ensure their success in school and life. Imaginary or make-believe play offers incredible benefits to children. Through this type of play there are no rules; no right or wrong way to play. As a result children have the freedom to figure things out on their own. Self confidence is built as they conquer new challenges. Stress and anxieties are released as through play children have fun and express their woes. And, when parents participate in the play, the relationship between children and parents is nurtured.
One way to support imaginary play is to provide children with the opportunity to play. Dolls, animals, cars, trains and blocks are toys which can be used for imaginary play. Costumes, hats, puppets, pots and pans and gardening tools are examples of items that children can use during make-believe play. Have these types of toys available for children and provide the time and space for play.
Another tip I can offer is to do like the parents at the conference did and “play along.” Children taking the lead ensures that they have the opportunity to explore and practice. This requires that we avoid giving commands, asking questions or redirecting children during play. Instead participate by following along with the child, imitate what the child does and reflect out loud what is observed during the play. For example if they’re playing with blocks, you’ll simply observe what they’re doing and repeat it back to them: “You put the yellow block on top the red one, now you balanced the blue block on top, and look you are building a tower.”
And my final tip – enjoy the opportunity to play! Your children will love it!